What is Attachment Theory?

What is attachment theory?

Attachment is a biological impetus to survive throughout life. Experiencing an enduring and consistent relationship develops a secure attachment style, enabling the exploration of the world, with the knowledge that the secure base is consistently accessible.

Attachment theory by John Bowlby, examines the attachment styles learned from a very young age, in a response to separation, which influence childhood behaviour and develop as survival mechanism as adults. Separation from a secure attachment figure, causes emotional distress, such as anger, anxiety and depression, affecting attachment behaviour (Mary Ainsworth).

Mary Main, a student of Mary Ainsworth, related Ainsworth’s findings in infant attachment to adult attachment. She suggested that an individual’s Internal Working Model was developed from learning from parental example. This model was a blueprint for understanding life experience. Being both physically separated from loved ones, and emotionally distant renders the attachment insecure.

Attachment styles

A particular style of attachment will lead to a distinct behaviour pattern and way of establishing relationships. This has implications for the building of relationships with friends, loved ones, pets and, not forgetting,  the therapist.

A Secure – a loving, trustful relationship, where ‘someone has your back’. In a secure relationship, it is easy to be yourself, feel valued, and to have your needs met.

Styles of insecure attachment as adults are identified as:

Ambivalent – a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to relating to others.

Avoidant– resisting intimacy with others, reluctant to commit to relationships, withdrawing from others.

Disorganised– fluctuating between seeking approval, and pushing others away.

Dismissive– a lack of trust in others, low self-esteem, feeling unworthy of being loved.

Preoccupied– difficulty in committing full attention to others.

How Attachment works in Therapy

Building a relationship with the therapist is influenced by learned attachment styles. The role of the therapist is to be the ‘safe base’ for the client, and to learn about the client’s ‘internal working model’, their individuality. The therapist offers support without judgement, in a role of trust, enabling the client to explore their own relationships with others.

Exploring the attachment style between therapist and client, noticing what strengthens, or disrupts, the therapeutic relationship, paves the way for a secure attachment with the therapist, with an ease of communication developing.

Why is understanding attachment theory important?

Learning to communicate with others helps to build, or repair, relationships with our loved ones. Forming a secure attachment in adulthood, that may have been missing from childhood, leads to improved self-worth, self-confidence, and a capacity to love, and be loved.

©Claire Ballardie 2022


Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of Attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

M. Parkes and Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base. London: Routledge

Crittenden, P, M. (2017) Gifts from Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2017) Vol. 22 (3) 436-442

Main, M. (2000) ‘The Organized Categories of Infant, Child, and Adult Attachment: Flexible Vs. Inflexible Attention Under Attachment-Related Stress’, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48(4), pp. 1055–1096. doi: 10.1177/00030651000480041801. (Accessed 7 February 2022).

Murray-Parkes, C., Stevenson-Hinde, J. & Marris P.  (1993) Attachment across the Life Cycle. Routledge.




What is Depression?

With depression, you may have been feeling lonely or withdrawn for a while, and not been able to ‘snap out of it’. Daily life becomes a chore, and simple things become a challenge. It may be difficult to socialise, and things that you enjoy doing lose their appeal.

How does it start?

Depression may start from a life event such as bereavement, or build up through lifestyle or relational difficulties. You may suffer from a loss of confidence and self-esteem, and lose interest on yourself: how you dress, and care for yourself. Feeling tearful and irritable, a lack of patience, a sense of frustration are all common signs of depression. Life is no fun, and it is difficult to lift your mood.

How can counselling help?

Counselling can unlock the door into understanding what contributes to depression. It is about being able to talk about your experiences, without being judged, or feeling embarrassed or awkward. Depression affects people on different ways- you are unique, and important, and deserve a chance to feel better.

NHS Definition of Depression

  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life

If you would like to talk,, I will listen. Please contact me. 

Animal Assisted Counselling

Animal Assisted Counselling

Animal Assisted Counselling is about appreciation of the creatures in the natural world-wildlife we see every day, or our pets.

Animals can give us a sense of feeling understood, of not being judged, of being accepted, as in the person-centred approach to therapy.

We may be emotionally moved by photos or paintings of animals. Working with the Gesthalt approach, which is about what is happening for us right now, it is about being aware of animals in the moment, and taking time to notice how they make us feel.

Working with psychosynthesis, animals can help in therapy with our understanding of our ‘selves’, out identities, such as having a work persona, and an ‘at home’ persona’.

Animal Assisted Counselling can be part or your therapeutic  process if this would suit you. We will discuss this on our initial session together, and plan your individual counselling process.

Example of Animal Assisted Counselling
I met a Squirrel

Well, a funny thing happened yesterday. I was in the garden, watching a squirrel with a hazelnut in his mouth, perched on the fence. He seemed to be contemplating a good place to hide his find. He froze, motionless as he noticed me. I stood very still, and became aware that my heart was really racing. ‘Funny,’ I thought- ‘I have just walked up the steps, but I can’t be that unfit!’

As I looked at the squirrel, I noticed that his little chest was quivering. I had a strange sensation that I was sensing his heartbeat fluttering in my own heart. I calmed myself by slowly and consciously breathing. As I felt my heart beat return to normal, the squirrel twitched his nose, and lofted a front paw. He stayed put, but no longer seemed to be afraid. This was a very precious moment of connection with such a pretty creature until he was frightened away by a passing dog walker. I see him each morning, busy in the garden, so hopefully we can meet up again.